How do you produce fair and ethical political journalism? Ryan Schmelz is a Capitol Hill reporter for Fox Radio and in this politically divided country, he answers that question by returning to the fundamentals of all good reporting.
“I think it’s our duty to be fair, be ethical, and then not put let our personal beliefs get in the way of reporting it,” Schmelz said. “At the end of the day, your job is to educate the public, and your job is to report what’s going on to the public.”
Schmelz said all reporters have a duty to fact-check and to reveal their sources of information – especially when politicians are making claims and counterclaims.
“Tell the public where you got that information from; how you got that information,” Schmelz said. “Let’s say if it’s a story about the national debt or the deficit and spending and all that. I’ll use a resource like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and I’ll make sure I put in that story that I got that information from the Committee.”
Even with all of that, Schmelz said your reporting will be criticized.
“Certain people don’t like a network you work for; they don’t like the news outlet that you work for, and you have to deal with that sometimes,” Schmelz said. “Then again, there’s some criticism that’s actually constructive, and you take it in… If you get a criticism, get better for it, it’s just it’s what you have to do.”
As a former local TV news general assignment reporter, Schmelz has had to adjust to his new and very sprawling beat.
“With this job, just learning the ins and outs of DC can be a challenge in and of itself. There’s so much going on here. There’s so many facets of government and so many aspects of the government,” Schmelz said. “There’s hundreds of members of Congress that you need to know and need to know what their job is.”
But he also says he has plenty of resources he can rely on at the network and a lot of expertise working alongside him.
“It really just feels like this place is a fine-tuned machine, and that just everyone seems to know what they’re supposed to be doing and where they’re supposed to be,” he said, referencing what he observed when Queen Elizabeth died. “You didn’t really see anybody freaking out or panicking because it was major breaking news. Everyone just kind of knew how to handle the situation, and they’ve done that with so many other issues. Like when we had the speakers battle here on Capitol Hill, and also a number of these Trump indictments. Just everyone feels like they know what to do, how to do their job.”
With political coverage only expected to increase in the near future, Schmelz has this advice for reporters who are new to the beat.
“They’re going to run into a lot of people who are going to be emotional and I think keeping your composure is going to be a major thing,” he said. “People are going to be, in some cases. very vicious because we have such a divided country right now, but I think it’s important for every journalist to remember their job is to report the story, report the facts.”
He goes on to say that for those covering stump speeches, having a system for fact-checking is essential, as well as researching the candidates and issues you are covering.
“Know, the background of the candidates you’re covering; know some of the key figures in their campaigns,” Schmelz said. “Make sure that you are aware of what this race could mean; what the stakes are… and what kind of impact they could have.”